Hong Kong’s former leader Leung Chun-ying has called for a China-wide boycott of the Chicago-founded law firm Mayer Brown after it pulled out of representing the University of Hong Kong in its controversial demand to remove a Tiananmen Massacre statue from its campus.

Leung accused the firm of bowing to international pressure and “abandoning” its client in a statement to the Financial Times on Sunday.

Tiananmen Square Massacre Pillar of Shame HKUSU
Photo: Kelly Ho/HKFP.

“From here on, no client in Hong Kong or Mainland China, particularly those with Chinese government connections, will find Mayer Brown dependable,” the former chief executive said.

“Yes I am calling for a China-wide boycott of Mayer Brown. The firm owes Hong Kong a full account of its decision to cease to act for Hong Kong University, and of the foreign interventions leading to that decision,” he said.

The international law firm has offices in Hong Kong, Beijing and Shanghai.

Leung, who serves as the vice-chair of Beijing’s legislative consulting body, also called on the Law Society of Hong Kong, the city’s regulatory body for solicitors, to launch an investigation into the matter.

Leung Chun-ying
Leung Chun-ying. File photo: GovHK.

Mayer Brown stopped representing the university on the issue last Friday after a week of international pressure, including an open letter signed by 28 international groups urging it to halt its work with the university.

The Pillar of Shame, created in the memory of the victims of the Tiananmen Massacre by Danish artist Jens Galschiøt, has stood on the university’s campus since 1997.

Earlier this month, the university gave the now-disbanded Hong Kong Alliance in Support of Patriotic Democratic Movements of China a six-day deadline to remove the two-tonne statue from its campus, despite two back-to-back T8-level typhoons. Its artist has since asserted his ownership of the monument, retained a lawyer, and has said he would consider legal action if the statue was damaged.

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The statue still stands at the university’s Pok Fu Lam campus despite last Wednesday’s deadline.

The Tiananmen Massacre occurred on June 4, 1989 ending months of student-led demonstrations in China. It is estimated that hundreds, perhaps thousands, of people died when the People’s Liberation Army was deployed to crack down on protesters in Beijing.

HKFP have reached out to the university and Mayer Brown for comment.

‘Attack from China’

The statue’s artist celebrated the law firm’s decision last Friday, but has continued his calls for international support to save the pillar and move it abroad.

“It is still uncertain whether we can get the opportunity to get the sculpture out of Hong Kong. So we need all the help we can get, by informing [people] about China’s attacks on art and freedom of speech,” Galschiøt wrote in an email campaign on Monday.

Tiananmen Square Massacre Pillar of Shame
Photo: Kelly Ho/HKFP.

“[T]his struggle for art and the Chinese’s right to remember their own history is also a very life-affirming experience. The whole process shows that it is possible for ordinary people to enact a little influence on the global stage,” the artist continued.

CY on 1989

In 1989, Leung, joined a group of fellow surveyors in publishing a newspaper statement shortly before the massacre. “Seeing a government attempting to use force to crack down on its patriotic people, we feel heartbroken,” it said.

The day after the massacre, he condemned the “bloody massacre” by the Chinese Communist Party and said Beijing had lost the confidence of Hongkongers.

Leung Chun-ying
Leung Chun-ying at the FCC in 2012. File photo: GovHK.

The space in Hong Kong to commemorate the massacre for the past three decades was widely seen as a barometer of its freedoms when compared to mainland China, where all reference to Beijing’s bloody crackdown has been erased from collective memory. Moves by authorities to clampdown on the memory of the massacre have intensified since Beijing’s imposition of a national security law on the city last summer.

Last month, the Hong Kong Alliance, the group behind annual vigils for the massacre, disbanded after a security law crackdown saw its leadership charged and denied bail, its property raided and assets frozen.

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Rhoda kwan

Rhoda Kwan

Rhoda Kwan is HKFP's Assistant Editor. She has previously written for TimeOut Hong Kong and worked at Meanjin, a literary journal. She holds a double bachelor’s degree in Law and Literature from the University of Hong Kong.